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Jo Ayoubi

Track Surveys

Senior Consultant & CEO

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Analysing 70/20/10: can we make a difference to the 90% of learning that we can’t control?


70/20/10 is a hot topic. In this article Jo Ayoubi, CEO of Track Surveys, shines the spotlight on the 90% of the formula that the organisation can't control, and asks to what extent we can influence this in a positive way.

We’re all familiar with the 70/20/10 model of learning – it’s been around for some time, and has had something of a revival in the last couple of years.

Online learning, and the ability to share more and collaborate, has given us the ability to deliver more learning outside the classroom than ever before.

Yet there is still much debate around this model:

  • Is it prescriptive or descriptive?
  • How flexible are the proportions?
  • Does informal include self-directed learning, e-learning?
  • How do we evaluate it, if indeed it’s even possible to do so?
  • And where does the model leave L&D practitioners and their role?

Why does it matter?

Whilst it may be difficult to capture all this informal learning, it’s critical for us as L&D professionals to be aware of it, to promote it, and to include it in our learning strategies.

Informal learning and on-the-job training can be a much more direct way to link learning and performance, and provides a good opportunity for us to influence the success of individual and team performance.

Stuff is happening out there – but is it really learning?

Before we get into our role, here’s a thought: intuitively we know that a lot of what looks like learning goes on informally within the organisation all the time.

In their daily job, people pick up behaviours and ways of doing things from their managers, from each other, and from their own experience of what works and what doesn’t.

But is it all really learning?

A quick trip back to basics

Back to basics: 3 models for adult learning

  1. Kolbs learning cycle

Kolbs cycle is simple and puts the key elements of adult learning into a repeating cycle of Experience, Observation, Conceptualising and Action.  

For learning to take place, says Kolb, we have to have something happen, step back and look at what happened, work out what really happened and why, and then act based on that reflection, which then feeds into our next experience.

So if there’s no reflection, or review, or discussion, or feedback, has learning really happened? Or are we going to just head off and do the same thing again? If so, have we learned anything?

  1. Knowles’s Theory of adult learning theory:

Malcolm Knowles’s original theory of adult learning was effectively summarised and updated in 2002 by Merriam.

The key tenets are still the same:

  • Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their learning
  • Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities
  • Adults are most interested in learning about subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life
  • Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented

Taking this as our model, it would appear that without involving people in discussion about their learning (again, a deliberate focus on what’s taking place), adults will not necessarily learn.

The experience and problem-centred approach can make on-the-job learning particularly effective if it’s done right.

  1. Goal theory

Goal theory has been written about extensively and studies have repeatedly shown that goal setting and tracking can increase both motivation and achievement in learners.

Again we see how important it is to focus on what is being done, why and how it’s being done, and to consciously reflect and review what’s been learned.

In summary, learning happens at the intersection of these three models:

So what?

So here’s my idea: instead of worrying too much about the details of the 70/2010 model, we bring value in several key areas:

  • Creating a mindset in our organisation that focuses on goal-setting, feedback and reflection. If we can get those three areas of focus into as many workplace conversations as we can, we can support that informal learning and make it both more effective and more motivating – and we might even be able to start to measure it a bit more too, but more on that later.
  • By training managers and their teams in the skills of feedback and goal setting, and helping them to build reflection into their daily conversations and meetings (rather than activities that are separate from their daily work)
  • By putting some simple tools in place that (prompt) and allow managers and their teams to set and track the goals that are set, get feedback on those goals that can be easily recorded, and build in the ability and skills and opportunities to reflect, after a project, once a week, after contact with a customer or at a team meeting. We can build a culture of reflection, goal focus and feedback that will form the backbone of informal learning. We can then use the tools that support feedback and goal setting to link these activities to performance. 

Can we measure all this informal learning?

One of the issues around the 70/20 topic is how you measure all the informal learning that goes on.

Well, the simple answer is, we can’t measure the learning itself – what we can measure is the ongoing activities of goal-setting, feedback and reflection.

This may change our role in the organisation from course designers to enablers of informal learning – surely a key role in a 70/20/10 world.

16 Responses

  1. Jo…you beat me to it! I’m
    Jo…you beat me to it! I’m in the process of writing up a case study of an organisation that wanted to move very much as you describe but got their focus awry. You have hit a number of nails on the head with your article and I shall definitely link to it in my forthcoming work

    1. Thanks Russ. I do think this
      Thanks Russ. I do think this is something that is simple in concept, but can go awry sometimes. My experience is that it goes awry when we overcomplicate it?

      I would love to read your case study when you publish it.


  2. A good perspective, Jo. The
    A good perspective, Jo. The three areas you mention should be integral to any 70:20:10 implementation.

    Adults learn through experience, practice, conversations and networks, and reflection. Any approach that helps extract learning from daily activities is a good thing.

    1. Thanks for your comment,
      Thanks for your comment, Charles. What’s your view on the informal learning side? Do you think we should try to measure it, or just let it happen organically?

  3. From Andrew in our LinkedIn
    From Andrew in our LinkedIn group:

    “For me there is far too much intellectualising around informal learning and not enough ‘just get on with it’ going on.”

    1. Thanks Shonette/Andrew. I
      Thanks Shonette/Andrew. I can see where you’re coming from.
      Do you think that just getting on with it means that the right things are learned? Not a leading question, am genuinely interested in your view.

      1. A response from Andrew:
        A response from Andrew:
        “Well it troubles me that the likes of the Jennings model, and for those of over a certain age all the way back to work of Mike Pedler and others has generated an awful lot more discussion over the merits of self-development that evidence of its being applied by those that of all professionals should take the lead.”

    2. Andrew has an interesting
      Andrew has an interesting point: that we wish to avoid paralysis by analysis…but by the same token it is critical to understand what precisely the “it” that we are going to get on with is. The situation I’m writing up is a perfect example of getting on with “it” and then discovering that what was got on with was not “it” and did not work….lots of action and activity….little useful output!
      Whilst too much intellectualising is a bad thing (generally) we do need clarity of objective, a clear understanding of the business case and a half decent plan.

      1. Russ – drop me and Shonette a
        Russ – drop me and Shonette a line at editor at hrzone dot com once you’ve got the case study written up and we can talk about publishing it in some way, if that suits. Jamie

  4. Really interesting article
    Really interesting article thanks Jo. The work I do in my role is fairly new & involves educating managers in goal setting and feedback for their teams. I’ve been thinking about how I can evaluate this so it’s prompted me to really think about how I’m going to do this.

    1. Helen, there’s some data in a
      Helen, there’s some data in a slide deck of mine from 2011 that may be useful.

      Slides 34-37 contain data from a Corporate Executive Board study with 15 global organisations that compared the performance, engagement, adaptability and commitment of people reporting to managers who are ‘focused and effective’ at developing their people (through all the means you suggest) and those who report to managers who are ‘ineffective’ at developing their reports. I usually explain the difference as ‘an extra day’s work every week’. Retention and engagement are almost 40% higher (obviously) in the former group, and ability to continue to be productive in times of change are also significantly higher.

      The data on slide 37 is from another study that identified the 15 actions managers can take which help improve performance. The top three are far-and-away more effective than the rest. They are [a] explaining what’s expected and how people will be measured against expectations; [b] providing experiences that develop – stretch goals and challenging work to learn from experience; and [c] ensuring projects provide opportunities for learning – making time for feedback and reflection.

  5. Jo, a timely article for me,
    Jo, a timely article for me, thank you. I’ve just taken up a new role in a Southwest law firm, who as you can imagine have strict CPD and regulatory requirements. My challenge is to change the ‘learning’ culture by encouraging them to log informal learning as their CPD requirement moves to competence-based and work-based learning. 70:20:10 has a prominent place on my wall planner! Regards

  6. I like your thinking around
    I like your thinking around this Jo and agree with your suggestions on how to make informal learning happen. I think sometimes as L&D professionals we get hung up on how to make a model work perfectly which really isn’t possible. Just making sure that we are supporting business goals by working closer to where work happens with some of the tools you mentioned is really important. Thanks for your insights.

  7. Hi Jo, Great article. From
    Hi Jo, Great article. From my perspective I fear too many organisations take the formula too literally and as such that impacts on L & D overall. As for informal learning/OJT, I prefer to refer to it as ‘On the Job’ learning which is managed, focused and yes, measured. ‘Informal’ tends to give a lesser impression of the importance of the OJT in terms of competence/capability measurement.

  8. A great articel Jo Ayubi. As
    A great articel Jo Ayubi. As you said on the job training and informal learning will help the students to understand the direct approach in any domain. But is it goo denough to promote them as learning is a big question. Great article. Thanks for posting.
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Jo Ayoubi

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